Organisational Response to the 2007 Ruapehu Crater Lake Dam-Break Lahar in New Zealand: Use of Communication in Creating an Effective Response

Julia S. Becker, Graham S. Leonard, Sally H. Potter, Maureen A. Coomer, Douglas Paton, Kim C. Wright, David M. Johnston

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Abstract

    When Mt. Ruapehu erupted in 1995–1996 in New Zealand, a tephra barrier was created alongside Crater Lake on the top of Mt. Ruapehu. This barrier acted as a dam, with Crater Lake rising behind it over time. In 2007 the lake breached the dam and a lahar occurred down the Whangaehu Valley and across the volcano’s broad alluvial ring-plain. Given the lahar history from Ruapehu, the risk from the 2007 event was identified beforehand and steps taken to reduce the risks to life and infrastructure. An early warning system was set up to notify when the dam had broken and the lahar had occurred. In combination with the warning system, physical works to mitigate the risk were put in place. A planning group was also formed and emergency management plans were put in place to respond to the risk. To assess the effectiveness of planning for and responding to the lahar, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with personnel from key organisations both before and after the lahar event. This chapter discusses the findings from the interviews in the context of communication, and highlights how good communication contributed to an effective emergency management response. As the potential for a lahar was identifiable, approximately 10 years of lead-up time was available to install warning system hardware, implement physical mitigation measures, create emergency management plans, and practice exercises for the lahar. The planning and exercising developed effective internal communications, engendered relationships, and moved individuals towards a shared mental model of how a respond to the event. Consequently, the response played out largely as planned with only minor communication issues occurring on the day of the lahar. The minor communication issues were due to strong personal connections leading to at least one incidence where the plan was bypassed. Communication levels during the lahar event itself were also different from that experienced in exercises, and in some instances communication was seen to increase almost three-fold. This increase in level of communication, led to some difficulty in getting through to the main Incident Control Point. A final thought regarding public communication prior to the event was that more effort could have been given to developing and integrating public information about the lahar, to allow for ease of understanding about the event and integration of information across agencies.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAdvances in Volcanology
    PublisherSpringer - (backfiles)
    Pages253-269
    Number of pages17
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2018

    Publication series

    NameAdvances in Volcanology
    ISSN (Print)2364-3277
    ISSN (Electronic)2364-3285

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    Becker, J. S., Leonard, G. S., Potter, S. H., Coomer, M. A., Paton, D., Wright, K. C., & Johnston, D. M. (2018). Organisational Response to the 2007 Ruapehu Crater Lake Dam-Break Lahar in New Zealand: Use of Communication in Creating an Effective Response. In Advances in Volcanology (pp. 253-269). (Advances in Volcanology). Springer - (backfiles). https://doi.org/10.1007/11157_2016_38